Remarks at the First Annual Commemoration of the Days of Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust
April 30, 1981
I feel a little unnecessary, because I don't know that anyone could say anything that would add to those words that we've just heard. It is a particular pleasure for me to be here with you today. This ceremony has meaning not only for people of the Jewish faith, those who have been persecuted, but for all who want to prevent another Holocaust.
Jeremiah wrote of the days when the Jews were carried off to Babylon and Jerusalem was destroyed. He said, ``Jerusalem weeps in the night and tears run down her cheeks.'' Today, yes, we remember the suffering and the death of Jews and of all those others who were persecuted in World War II. We try to recapture the horror of millions sent to gas chambers and crematoria. And we commemorate the days of April in 1945 when American and Allied troops liberated the Nazi death camps.
The tragedy that ended 36 years ago was still raw in our memories, because it took place, as we've been told, in our lifetime. We share the wounds of the survivors. We recall the pain only because we must never permit it to come again. And yet, today, in spite of that experience, as an entire generation has grown to adulthood, who never knew the days of World War II, and we remember ourselves, when we were younger, how distant history seemed, anything that came before our time -- and so the signs do exist: the ugly graffiti, the act of violence, the act of terrorism here and there, scattered throughout the world and not quite large enough in dimension for us to rally as we once did in that war.
I'm horrified today when I know and hear that there are actually people now trying to say that the Holocaust was invented, that it never happened, that there weren't 6 million people whose lives were taken cruelly and needlessly in that event, that all of this is propaganda. Well, the old cliche that a picture's worth a thousand words -- in World War II, not only do we have the survivors today to tell us at first hand, but in World War II, I was in the military and assigned to a post where every week, we obtained from every branch of the service all over the world the combat film that was taken by every branch. And we edited this into a secret report for the general staff. We, of course, had access to and saw that secret report.
And I remember April '45. I remember seeing the first film that came in when the war was still on, but our troops had come upon the first camps and had entered those camps. And you saw, unretouched -- no way that it could have ever been rehearsed -- what they saw, the horror they saw. I felt the pride when, in one of those camps, there was a nearby town, and the people were ordered to come and look at what had been going on, and to see them. And the reaction of horror on their faces was the greatest proof that they had not been conscious of what was happening so near to them.
And that film still, I know, must exist in the military, and there it is, living motion pictures, for anyone to see, and I won't go into the horrible scenes that we saw. But it remains with me as confirmation of our right to rekindle these memories, because we need always to guard against that kind of tyranny and inhumanity. Our spirit is strengthened by remembering, and our hope is in our strength.
There is an American poem that says humanity, with all its fears and all its hopes, depends on us. As a matter of fact, it was the Pope, at the end of World War II, when the world was so devastated, and yet, we alone remained so strong, who said: America has a genius for great and unselfish deeds, and into the hands of America, God has placed an afflicted mankind.
I think that that was a trust given to us that we should never betray. It is this responsibility as free people that we face today. It's this commitment among free people that we celebrate.
The hope of a ceremony such as this is that even a tortured past holds promise if we learn its lessons. According to Isaiah, there will be a new heaven and a new earth and the voice of weeping will be heard no more. Together, with the help of God, we can bear the burden of our nightmare. It is up to us to ensure that we never live it again.
Theodore Roosevelt said that the Presidency was a bully pulpit. Well, I, for one, intend that this bully pulpit shall be used on every occasion, where it is appropriate, to point a finger of shame at even the ugliness of graffiti, and certainly wherever it takes place in the world, the act of violence or terrorism, and that even at the negotiating table, never shall it be forgotten for a moment that wherever it is taking place in the world, the persecution of people, for whatever reason -- persecution of people for their religious belief -- that is a matter to be on that negotiating table, or the United States does not belong at that table.
Note: The President spoke at 10:22 a.m. in the East Room at the White House. The ceremony was sponsored by the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.